Congress might move deadline for train safety system after railroads revolt

  • Mike Quigley

    Mike Quigley

Updated 9/30/2015 8:35 PM

Amid dire threats of no Metra service or freight train shipments, Congress could be poised to extend a deadline for railroads to install an automatic braking system.

Called positive train control, it was mandated by Congress after a 2008 commuter rail crash in California and can stop trains when a collision is imminent. But the technology is complicated to install and costly, and freight and commuter railroads say they won't meet the Dec. 31 deadline.


Metra leaders said last week they won't be able to run trains beginning Jan. 1 because it would be illegal to operate without locomotives equipped wiht the system.

Other commuter railroads have issued similar statements.

Meanwhile, freight railroads along with manufacturers, shippers and institutions such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have pressured lawmakers to move the deadline.

Republican and Democratic members of the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on Wednesday introduced a bill that would push the deadline to Dec. 31, 2018.

U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley of Chicago said he's seen the braking system work in an Amtrak demonstration on a trip between Chicago and Michigan. But he stressed it's complicated for agencies such as Metra that have to coordinate with all the freight railroads that crisscross the region.

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"For PTC to work, every system has to link with all the others," Quigley said.

Among the consequences of not relaxing the deadline is that railroads would be forced to stop shipping hazardous materials such as chlorine, which is needed at water treatment plants, Association of American Railroads CEO Edward Hamberger said Monday.

"It cannot be business as usual for Washington," he said. "This particular issue cannot wait until December."

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